Dear readers and friends –

While I’ve been caught up in work and the busyness of life these past six months, I’ve also been reading, writing, and contemplating the commitments I want to make to #Signs of Love in 2020. But in the meantime I have some good news for you – another Kirkpatrick is finding the time to wander and write, read and meditate, AND he is writing a blog about it!

In the spring of this year, my son Finn got some tough news.  He wasn’t accepted to the university he had expected to transfer to this past fall. We didn’t think his expectation was unreasonable since he had been admitted to the school as a freshman and had completed all the requirements. He had improved as a student and photographer over those two years; he knew himself to be ten times the candidate at 20 than he was at 18. After appealing the decision, the university revealed that they took only 10% of the transfer students who applied. While it didn’t change the circumstances, it took the edge off the decision.

Though it hurt, Finn took the disruption in stride and got busy planning his unintended year off from school. (He was finally getting that gap year he wanted at 18.) He worked hard, saved his money, and dreamt big. In August he backpacked the John Muir Trail, over 200 miles from the Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in North America. Carrying everything he needed for three weeks on the trail, he his food was resupplied by his grandad at point and a pack mule at another. He lived on a consistent diet of tuna fish, protein powder and power bars, rice, dried mashed potatoes and leftovers from buddies on the trail. He lost ten pounds and gained a new perspective on life. He took thousands of photographs, which you can check out here.

After a quick month at home, he left in October for a two-month adventure in Europe with one of his oldest friends. He and Ben have known each other since preschool and share a similar desire to cultivate their own way of being in the world. As far as I can tell, they spend their days in museums and parks, walking the streets of cities most of us will never visit. They read and write, meditate and meet people. I am sure they also spend plenty of time drinking in pubs (Dublin) and dancing in nightclubs (Spain). And along the way Finn has found that he likes to share his thoughts almost as much as his photographs.

So with his permission, I am sharing his most recent post here on #Signs of Love, but you can always check it out on his website, www.FinnKirkpatrick.com. Enjoy!

A New Earth, The Alchemist and the Little Things

Or, since he’s writing from Spain,

“Una Nueva Tierra, El Alquimista y las Pequeñas Cosas”

 

“I’m back! I apologize to all my loyal followers, all twelve of you, you’ve probably been wondering what’s been going on. I just got a little caught up in life and all the traveling.

3 week recap:

  • Spent the end of Oct- beginning of Nov. in Bergen, Norway
  • Did some incredible hiking, ate some delicious pastries, and froze my Southern Califronian butt off
  • Headed south to the warm coastal climate of Barcelona, Spain
  • Capitalized on fresh fruits and juices, the ocean, and conversations with the city’s characters
  • Took a bus to Madrid, where I spent a few days exploring the city’s massive parks, world class museums, and ate loads of jamon iberico
  • Took a bus to Bilbao, where I am currently visiting some friends, enjoying their toddler’s energy, and planning on getting a surf in tomorrow (20ft swell forecast!)

I recently watched a photography documentary called “Everybody Street,” which is about some of the most famous street photographers and their photos, style, and method of shooting street. This type of photography has a very authentic and documentarian feel, with lots of cultural commentary woven in. The differentiating variable in the photographers’ style was whether or not they interacted with their subjects. Some felt that in order to capture a moment, in its purest form, they could not intervene, while others felt it was not appropriate to capture someone’s image without their knowledge. This is something I have gone back and forth on throughout the trip. When shooting, I don’t normally ask permission, because if you don’t act on impulse, the moment you want to capture is gone. When you are behind the camera, you feel as if you are an observer of the whole, not a part of it. This can be comforting if you think there is some insanity with all the peoples’ vanity, phone usage, and way of life. And I’m sure they think I’m insane walking around taking photos of them. However, a camera is also an incredible tool that can allow you to meet strangers, and I have had some life-changing conversations when I interact with my subjects. One afternoon in Barcelona, I approached a man in authentic African attire and asked if I could take his photo. I ended up sitting on the bench next to him for two and a half hours, and left wiser man. Since then have been trying to approach more people, however, the language barrier has made having in-depth conversations difficult.

Early this week, I finished A New Earth and listened to The Alchemist on tape twice. The last half of A New Earth was equally as inspiring as the first half. The Alchemist has been and will continue to be one of my favorite books ever. I’ve chosen to write on the part where they seamlessly overlapped as I read one and listened to the other. Both authors talk about the little things and their ability to bring great joy into our lives. I’ve been aware of this phenomenon since I was introduced to Mary Oliver’s poem “Mindfulness” a couple years ago. An excerpt from the poem…

Everyday

I see or hear

something

that more or less

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

in the haystack

of light.

The practice of finding a few things every day that “kill me with delight” has helped me create stillness in my life. In A New Earth, Tolle talks in depth about our inner space, or the part of us that exists outside of form. He says, “The thing or event is so subtle, so unobtrusive, that it takes up only a small part of your consciousness- and the rest is inner space, consciousness itself unobstructed by form… In other words, the form of little things leaves room for inner space.” I now notice in myself, that when walking around, if I can enjoy the little things, I am filled with that inner space and a feeling of gratitude. In The Alchemist the boy is told, “You don’t have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.” A simple grain of sand, the finer details of a leaf, a child’s laugh, the wind blowing through the trees, and so on, can leave you in awe when you’re able to appreciate them as they are, simply contemplating their beauty.

I’ve had a few profound moments over the last year where I feel incredibly content, complete, and connected. I now understand those moments occurred when I was fully present, not lost in any thoughts about what could be different. In fact I wasn’t even thinking of me or my own life, I was simply a part of life as a whole. I had one of those moments in El Retiro park in Madrid a few days ago, and it dawned upon me that these magical moments were not rare. It’s all one neverending moment, the eternal “now,” and it is always accessible to you, as long as “you” or your life isn’t the priority. It’s quite hard to stay in that moment, but I am trying, and using the little things to bring me back when my monkey mind wanders off.

TGIF !

T– This week I have been filling out college apps for next fall. Although this is my third time going through the process, it’s always a little stressful. I am trusting that it’ll all work out and I’ll get in somewhere, but if I don’t… that means I can probably travel some more, so it’ll work out regardless.

G– I am grateful for the convenience of traveling. The “Hero’s Journey” is as old as time and is a very common theme in literature, movies, paintings, and other mediums. For years, the youth would set out to discover their life’s purpose, follow their dreams, or slay metaphorical dragons, and would not return. Many characters in my novels, like Siddartha, Santiago, and Parsifal, said goodbye to their families forever. So I am grateful that I can take my own journey and at the end of the day return to the warm embrace of those I know and love.

I– I was inspired this week by a quote from Jim Carrey. When I asked for the things that inspired all of you last blog, my dear friend Matt Maude, that loud london local I mentioned earlier, gave me this one from the Netflix documentary “Jim & Andy.” In the doc, Carrey says

 At some point when you create yourself to make it, you’re going to have to either let that creation go and take a chance on being loved or hated for who you really are, or you’re going to have to kill who you really are and fall into your grave grasping a character you never were.” 

 

Wow. What a call out. It reminds me of when Emerson makes the bold claim: “Imitation is suicide.” So on this journey, I’ve been trying to answer the question of “Who am I?” and I’ve been inspired by these men to not really worry about it, and just be and do whatever comes to me.

F– My fun for the week has been playing with my new buddy Noah. I came to Bilbao to stay with our family friends Scott and Katie Lyons, and their toddler Noah. After traveling with just Ben, for a month, I was ready for some new, crazy and wild energy, and there’s been no short supply here.

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Finn and Noah just chilling…

 

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“Mindful”

Every day

I see or hear

something

that more or less

 

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

 

in the haystack

of  light.

It is what I was born for –

to look, to listen,

 

to lose myself

inside this soft world –

to instruct myself

over and over

 

in joy,

and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,

 

the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant –

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,

 

the daily presentations.

Oh good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help

 

but grow wise

with such teachings

as these –

the untrimmable light

 

of the world,

the ocean’s shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?

 

Mary Oliver, “Moliver,” from Blue Iris, 2014.

This is the third in a series of poems about meditation and mindfulness by Moliver that I wanted to share this month, which included “Drifting” and “On Meditating, Sort of.” In some ways, I think it is the simplest of the three. The direction is right in the title: “Mindful.” Moliver seems to be saying, “This is what it’s like to actually see the world. When we rush on by, we miss it all. But when we are ‘mindful,’ the beauty of the world will kill us with delight.”

I shared this poem a while ago with someone I love dearly. I read it and instantly thought of them, because I knew they would get it. Like Mary Oliver, they were born “to look, to listen,/ to lose” themselves in the natural world and they teach me by example to see the extraordinary in “the ordinary,/ the common, the very drab.” That’s the true gift I think, the one most of us leave unopened, when we prefer big and beautiful things and dismiss the “daily presentations” of grass and water and light. But it’s those little things that can save us every hour. I love how Moliver inverts our educational paradigm – claiming for herself the title of “good scholar” – who grows wise through her observance of nature, not simply through classes and books.

This beloved of mine, the one with whom I shared this poem, is going through a rough patch these days, struggling to be mindful, lost instead in a sea of sea-doubt and fear. I don’t blame them; what they are going through is hard. I can listen, offer my love, a little practical advice, but mostly, I want to whisper in their ear: “Be mindful! Go find something to kill you with delight!” It won’t make their problems go away, but for that moment, it might make them smile and help them remember the gift they bring to the world – their ability to see and capture the magic so many of us pass by.

So, to my beloved friend and to all of you,

Be a good scholar today. Go be delighted by something – in the sky or on the ground, in a bird’s call, or a baby’s laughter. Slow down enough to see it, hear it, fall in love with it, even if for just one moment. It won’t change anything, but it might change everything – eventually.

Nature has wisdom for us all: the cycles of light and dark, new and old, death and rebirth, silence and noise, diversity is health; change is growth; imperfection is inherent, but so too is beauty and abundance. Watch and wait. It will come.

P.S. For some of my readers, my use of the third person plural (they/their) for an individual, instead of the 3rd person singular (he/she/his/hers) may be bothersome. Sorry about that!

 

 

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“On Meditating, Sort Of”

Meditation, so I’ve heard, is best accomplished

if you entertain a certain strict posture.

Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.

So why should I think I could ever be successful?

 

Somedays, I even fall asleep, or land in that

even better place – half-asleep – where the world,

spring, summer, autumn, winter –

flies through my mind in its

hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.

 

So I just lie like that, while distance and time

reveal their true attitudes: they never

heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.

 

Of course, I wake up finally

thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,

made out of earth and water,

my own thoughts, my own fingerprints –

all that glorious, temporary stuff.

 

The poet Mary Oliver, or “Moliver” as she is affectionately referred to around our house, is someone you will see pop up a few times this month. She is one of my favorites and there is a theme in her writing I’d like to explore with all of you: the sacrament of Nature, of being present in the moment however it arises and recognizing it for the holy gift it is.

I think this poem is a great start. Meditation and its companion, mindfulness, are buzzwords these days. They are offered as a remedy for everything from stress to chronic pain, as relief from anxiety and exhaustion. They will help us lose weight, sleep well, and even become better “team players” at work and home! Ugh! It kind of drives me crazy, because developing a meditation practice for those things is like taking a prescription drug for its “off-label” side effects. We might experience a relief of our symptoms, but it’s not what it was made for and it’s definitely not going to cure the underlying cause.

But I think Mary’s version of meditation might be just what the doctor ordered, in its gentle and holistic approach.

Lie down somewhere beautiful and let your mind drift. Don’t cling to what you think you’re supposed to do, or feel, or experience. Let life pass you by for a moment, or two and see yourself in the midst of things, where “distance and time” have “never heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.” From that place, we might wake refreshed and perhaps even “cured” of what ailed us in the first place. We might even find ourselves grateful to be in our own bodies and a part of this beautiful world.

Let this poem inspire you! It’s Spring! Go find a tree, a little patch of sunlight, a place where the breeze can kiss your face. Close your eyes and in the words of Rumi, allow yourself “to be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love,” which I hope is yourself and this beautiful, suffering world we live in.

 

Post Script: I recently acquired a copy of “Moliver’s” newest book, Devotions, as a gift from Tim. I had been on the waiting list at the library for so long and when I finally got my hands on a copy, the weeks just flew by. On the last day it was in my possession, he  caught me taking pictures of page after page on my cell phone. (Desperate times call for desperate measures! It took me months to get my hands on it the first time and I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait again.) However, two days later, it was in my mailbox. Though Tim generally supports my book-buying restraint, in this case, it deserved an exception. I highly recommend you put your name on the waiting list at your local library, or maybe even treat yourself to a copy!